Monday, April 21, 2008

Got into Harvard, Rejected by JPA

Lee Jia Hui got into Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth and Cornell but got rejected by JPA and Bank Negara. He explains his rejections (for the scholarships) by his vocal nature. I'm not surprised that he was rejected. I can imagine the eyes of the interviewers bulging as he was discussing his interest in politics, sexuality and self-identity. But I'm glad that he was full funding from Harvard. Goes to show that if you're smart, if you want to do something out of the box and if you are willing to work hard at the application process, you can find funding sources to study overseas, especially in a place like the US. Maybe not everyone can get into Harvard but there are plenty of liberal arts colleges with generous funding opportunities.


Shawn Tan said...

[gloat]Long live KHS![/gloat]

While it's quite possible that he might have talked himself out of the scholarship, it might just be that he wasn't deemed "good enough". With people getting 20+ 1As these days, it's easier to justify giving other people scholarships, than someone with 11 1As. It may also be that he is unsure of his course choice and this is something that the scholarship bodies need to know. (I'm trying to see things from a box checking civil servant's viewpoint.)

But in this case, I see it as a story that ended well. He managed to secure funding and will be able to further his studies, doing something that he likes, which is brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Good for him. Re JPA: whatever, he got funding in the end. And I hope he'll find lots of avenues for social activism at Harvard such as I am of course, not biased *at all*. ;-)

Anonymous said...

For whatever reason that JPA rejected him as a candidate for scholarship, it is their loss and his gain.

JPA needs to be more transparent in their selection of candidates and rejection of them as well.

Ching said...

This fella went for JPA and Bank Negara interviews...hoping to get scholarship from them..yet among other things, he also threw in stuff about gay, transgender, sexuality and those new age finding self identify nonsenses during the interview.

I mean, duh, can't he restrain himself? There are so many other topics he could talk about to impress the interviewer.

I can imagine the interviewer, who probably would be a conservative Muslim wearing songkok and stuff, would be totally speechless, shaken and stumped by those brave statements, and the only thing his mind could think of would be to stamp the word 'Rejected' on the his application.

By all means, avoid taboos and controversial topics during interview.

He could always discuss sexuality, homosexuals and stuff with family, friends, with strangers in coffee shops or public washrooms.

This straight A's student was basically digging his own grave, blew away his own chances. Nothing to blame JPA and Bank Negara about.. He should have done his homework and know what not to say during the interviewd.

Of course Harvard won't mind accepting him. The culture is different over there, gays over there happily roam around and people can spend their whole life talking about finding their self identity.

Anonymous said...

Well, he did go to ISKL which is an elite school which means he had a head start in the US system. Really we should congratulate him for getting into Harvard but the journey for him has only just begun.

Anonymous said...

Let's all not be sour grapes, here, shall we? This is an especially amazing accomplishment, considering the fact that he graduated from local public secondary school (Kajang High School), and got a full scholarship to ISKL, then financial aid to Harvard or Princeton.
This year was brutal in terms of admissions -- I am not sure whether the statistics in the newspapers about the number of Malaysians who applied are correct. I think the figure is closer to 60 Malaysians who applied to either Harvard or Princeton, and only one got into Harvard this year, and ~two who got into Princeton.

Anonymous said...

Heard there was an arson case in university malaya exam building a few days back....Any news in the press?

Anonymous said...

i feel...rather disappointed 4 my country, there goes another m'sian brain drain!!!

Anonymous said...

btw how many got into dartmouth and cornell this yr?

plato's disciples said...

Oh yes the interviewer is always very conservative. When I go through the interviews it makes my heart saddens that I have to lie through my teeth and saying things I know I don't believe in.

Rather than asking the boy to change why don't we ask them to change?

Anyway best of luck to him in getting education in US.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sonar,

I'm the person who interviewed Lee Jia Hui. Forgive me if I overstep but I find your comments quite disturbing.

The fact that Lee has got gay and transgender friends does NOT mean that he said it during his Bank Negara or JPA interview.

He only disclosed his passion for gender and sexuality studies as well as politics AFTER i probed further to unearth what he intends to study at Princeton or Harvard.

Is initiative or passion a sin? Who has the right to fault a person just because he or she is different? Surely not!

Well, thank God we still live in a world where differing opinion alone does not constitute a crime and while Lee delves into intellectual discourse at Princeton or Harvard, others who play safe to maintain a redundant status quo can... always play catchup and discuss gender issues ini public washrooms.

I don't see this as Lee not being smart or good enough for local organisations. Instead, I see it as him being too good for them.

And Anonymous, you may be right there. While I was not told about the number of Malaysian applicants to Harvard, a total of six Malaysians were called up for the interview. Only Lee made it.

I originally wrote "A total of six Malaysian applicants tried their luck in this year's interview process." Maybe the few words were cut for space? I don't know and will not speculate.

Anonymous said...

Lee is not the only case that got into a top uni and fail to get a scholarship from Malaysian government. If you look up the Malaysians who got into the top 10 unis in the world but fails to get a scholarship from Malaysian government, you can see that this is not an isolated case.
Lee is fortunate that Harvard admissions is need blind and gives schlarships based on need. A lot more students are less fortunate.
If our Malaysian selection system does not work or are biased, why not use the top university admission process to screen the student? Financial aid from places like Caltech and UC Berkeley are hard to get for international students (unless you are really exceptional like international maths, physics ... olympiad gold medalists). We can make it easier for Malaysian students who can get into these highly competitive schools and encouage them to come back.


Ching said...

Well Richard... I am not going to discuss whether gay is right or wrong..this is an education blog..

But for interview purpose for an education scholarship from JPA or Bank Negara in a country like ours where most of the people are pretty conservative, it's wise to avoid taboo and controversial topics..especially when your view is against the 'accepted norm'.. agree?

There are so many other topics one can touch on.. why want to go the hard way?

Anonymous said...

Hi Sonar,

Like you, I'm not interested in discussing whether homosexuality is right or wrong.

My earlier post was largely a reply to...

"This fella went for JPA and Bank Negara interviews...hoping to get scholarship from them..yet among other things, he also threw in stuff about gay, transgender, sexuality and those new age finding self identify nonsenses during the interview.

I mean, duh, can't he restrain himself? There are so many other topics he could talk about to impress the interviewer"

You don't know how Jia Hui's interview with Bank Negara went, so don't assume he talked about homosexuality with the interviewer.

Read the article carefully, gender studies is what he is interested in pursuing in USA, not what he harped on during the Bank Negara interview.

In regards to what you just typed, I just can't agree with you. So what if your view is against the accepted norm?

The earth was perceived to be flat in the past and people believed that the earth was the centre of the universe. Those norms no longer stand today thanks to intelligent, courageous and open minded people. Whenever something is wrong,it should be addressed and corrected regardless of the difficulties involved.

I guess that's why some people want to "go the hard way." Although some issues can be considered taboo subjects, they should be addressed nevertheless because sometimes, that is just the right thing to do.

Not everyone is looking for an easy way out especially when it boils down to conviction and integrity. It all depends on the content of a person's character.

For all you know, the hard way may be very well worth it. I mean, look at Jia Hui.

Anonymous said...

Richard Lim - your point is well taken. Jia Hui comes across as a smart young person - smart enough to know what needs to be said at JPA and other interviews with the Malaysian bureaucracy.

A larger point remains. In Malaysia Today, as well as a couple of other sites, there's a obituary on Rustam Sani authored by M. Bakri Musa. It touches on how difficult it is to be an intellectual in Malaysia - to talk and debate ideas, w/o running into political correctness. It also touches on how the internet and blogs have opened up "space" to discuss issues. "Times are achanging!"

Ching said...

Well..let's not assume that he talked about gay and stuff during the interview.

But my point is not whether gay is right or wrong.

Also not that we shouldn't think critically, 'go the hard way' or 'against the norm' and etc.

My point is merely that during a scholarship interview, one should avoid controversial topics and social taboos.

Everyone will have some degree of bias, including interviewers. So you have play the game well and not run directly into a brick wall.

If you were in the US, sitting for an interview and talk at length about how great you feel Osama is, those evil tyrants, chances are you would also blew your chances away, if not your visa.

There are so many other avenues where one can 'go the hard way' and exercise their maverick 'going against the norm' thinking.. there are public discussions, peer group discussions, journals, online forum, real life forum, facebook, school debate, family debate, kopitiam debate, central market like what Socrates used to do, roaming around the ancient marketplace annoyed people with his silly questions, etc and etc. Why die die must be during a scholarship interview?

Why not talk about how dedicated you are.. all rounder..honest..inquisitive.. this and you enjoyed dissecting the frog during science Malaysia..want to show the world that Malaysia also Boleh. ..inspired by the angkasawan and etc

Even a hardcore gay doesn't have to renounce his identity during an interview, he can just choose not to dwell into the topic.. and if he wants, he can choose gender studies later.

Anonymous said...

Chinese are still consider 2nd class citizens as long as JPA scholarships, Matriculation Coollege and UTP (Petronas) are concern. Look at the amount of Bumis they took in and the entry requirement ! It's totally unfair !

Anonymous said...

Regarding the interviews, its just for formality. Its tipu one. Mostly they accept Chinese whose parents are working with the government. This is mostly happening with the JPA interviews ! And most of the placing goes to Bumiputras. What's the MCA are doing about this ? This year it seems like the Indian are getting more placing. Congrats to the Hindrafs !

Anonymous said...

I think getting JPA and entry into Harvard are two separate things. Look, George Bush was a Harvard student. Look at the mess he created in Iraq for what-so-ever reason. Did George Bush's education in Harvard made him a better person? Children, women and old folks already suffered during the sanction. Now, their lives are worse - thanks to a graduate from Harvard University.

Anonymous said...

Harvard took blood from Chinese in China as I had read in a book and did not pay for the blood taken. Gives new meaning to the word bloodsuckers.

Anonymous said...

The govt'd be digging its own grave and will lose a bigger margin if the old policies remain, like what's been said by the anonymous above. Congrats to LCH for getting into the world #1 uni. It's a blessing in disguise, thanks to the BNM and JPA rejections.

Anonymous said...

first of all, how does one even know lee jia hui is gay?? talking about gender issues does not make one to be homosexual, or otherwise. talking about climate change does not make one a tree hugger as well.

i think the comments have digressed far enough from the objectives of the article, and the last few comments have little relevance whatsoever to lee jia hui or JPA/BNM scholarships, which are items this article is trying so hard to relay to an often lost-in-translation public.

Ching said...

Hmm..a number of you people seem to lambast the JPA like "You stupid, such a smart student you also don't want."

But among other things, shouldn't a government scholarship be given to areas specialities that we seriously need and are lacking.

Say if someone wants to study about gender (his every rights to do so), we have to look at whether we need more of these gender gurus. Is it urgent?

These overseas education can easily cost a bomb. A life time saving of a few average Malaysians combined won't be able to afford. And scholarships are tax-payers money. It should be used wisely.

Guess JPA can help by being more transparent with the whole process. They should clearly lay out which areas they are willing to sponsor and how many offers are available. This will avoid people feeling cheated because of their skin colour (where in fact, it's their choice of study) and the media which happily harps on the issue.

Fikri said...

It seems that there's more than a few comments that is willing to pin race down as the biggest factor when it comes to deciding for scholarships. Perhaps that is true for many, but I equally know of many for whom it doesn't apply to.

For example, I didn't manage to get a SLAB scholarship to pursue my master's (despite being told that "the letter's in the post"), but I managed to find other sources to fund my studies. And now that I am in Korea, most of the Malaysian students I've met here (and there's quite a few) did not have much help from our government.

My point here is that, beside the fact that there are other scholarships and chances available, I don't think race is always the biggest factor. As Sonar commented above, eventual occupational demand also sounds logical as a deciding factor.

May Zhee said...

Richard Lim, hi! I e-mailed The Star Education hoping to drop you a message but I haven't received a reply! Would you be so kind as to e-mail me if you see this? thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey everyone - I'm just going to put in my two sen's worth of thoughts:

1. Harvard's interview was 45 minutes, and we talked about Malaysian politics, education, race relations; they asked where I stand on some issues, what I'm interested in, and where I see myself heading. JPA's interview (I wasn't even selected for BNM's) was about "Tabiat Membaca di Kalangan Remaja" for 20 minutes. 7 people had to talk about the topic after a 2 minute self-introduction. There was no opportunity to talk beyond those limits, even if I was dying to express my views on sexuality.

2. If education is about creating and satisfying the job market, JPA and BNM are right in not supporting my educational interests. I'll make a horrible Accountant. I can go on about the importance of "unimportant majors/concentrations" but not here. Malaysia, though, lack proper public policy researchers and think thanks: you don't need to look far for the consequences.

3. It's not an issue of race. It's an issue of equal opportunity ("Education for All" as outlined by UNESCO). If people are denied the equal access to educational opportunity based on their status in the constitution, there's something thorougly wrong. I have friends scoring 7 1As in the SPM who went on to pursue a dental degree under JPA sponsorship. Another friend with 12 As is now working so that he can pay for his diploma studies. Does a 20 minute interview on BM Karangan topics make that difference?

4. ISKL was a culture shock in the first three months, US or no US system/mentality when I first enrolled as a scholar. But that's not the point: Being mature, open-minded, and critical about discourse on any issue (in and out of interviews)shouldn't be hampered by claims that it is "not our budaya". What shouldn't be our "budaya" is the refusal for open discussion just because it goes against your personal prejudice, providing unequal access to education (and this isn't just in terms of race), and having our education marred by a commitment to "saying the right things to the right person".

:) I'm open to debate. Oh and Bush came from Yale - it's no basis for discrediting the school, but I didn't apply there because of my dislike for the man.

Anonymous said...

Ah Jia Hui! The much revered teen sensation is here!

May Zhee said...


Forget Richard Lim, Jia Hui, do you think you can drop me an e-mail?

I'm interested in interviewing you as well and you have no idea to what extent I've tried to locate you! I was planning to march right up to ISKL on Monday but now that I've gotten to you, do drop me an e-mail!

Ching said...

I think the government has been giving away scholarships for far too long.. an enormous amount of the taxpayers' money has been wasted. And foreign universities are laughing their way to the bank.

Government scholarships should be seen as a short term 'patch up' work and not long term solution.

We send students to study in areas where we have critical shortages and where local unis do not have sufficient capability to train.

Once we have sufficient skill to train these people locally, then we should reduce the number of scholarships overseas. It's just too expensive to do what we are doing now.

BTW Jia Hui, Im interested in your view..pls elaborate "Malaysia, though, lack proper public policy researchers and think thanks: you don't need to look far for the consequences".

Anonymous said...

"Guess JPA can help by being more transparent with the whole process...This will avoid people feeling cheated because of their skin colour (where in fact, it's their choice of study) and the media which happily harps on the issue"

Well, JPA does lay out quite clearly what courses it is willing to sponsor, if you have ever filled up its form, which I did -- a few years back -- not that they change it very often.

I think it is their selection process which is heavily flawed. We have heard enough of its discrepancies and inconsistencies, haven't we? Now, I wonder if the same could be said to those Ivy Leagues or even any top universities around the world; or perhaps, for consistency's sake, other scholarship providers like Jardine.

Anonymous said...

I think JPA should be very careful who they give scholarships to. Just look at our local universities. How many tutors and lecturers have been given scholarships to pursue their PhD overseas and fail to get them eventually? These people go with their families and given all sorts of allowances. It costs at least half a million ringgit to send one of them. I think JPA should ask them to pay back the money if they fail to get their PhD. Some went there to do business and work instead of really going there to study. They make money there and come back with containers of goods and Mercedes. Since there is no clause to say that they must pay back if they fail to get their PhD, there is no incentive to study. Lots of tax payers money wasted. Might as well give these scholarhips to deserving people.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jia Hui,

I respect u not because u scored 11 A's in SPM, but because u stand firm on what u believe.

Take the JPA scholarship interview 4 example, I'm sure u know the JPA interviewers are very 'pantang' about controversial issues, yet u still choose 2 express your views instead of saying something nice just 2 please them.

Probably this is the reason y u're admitted into Harvard, not just based on academic results but your qualities as an individual as well.

I wish u luck in your future endeavors. U Boleh, I also Boleh, Pokoknya Malaysia Boleh!!!

Anonymous said...

malu sial JPA!!!

Anonymous said...

He had not mentioned anything controversial during JPA interview, as someone above incorrectly assumes.

JPA selection process is just fraught with faults. They tweak it often enough; yet unnecessarily, like adding essay component on top of verbal interview, then -- after finding it cumbersome to tote around the huge stack of paper they are not going to read -- they scrapped it off. I mean, I could list down all the topics they are going to throw at interviewees year in, year out. All you need to do is just to prepare each of them, and then -- well -- it is still useless.

In the end, you need to have the right mix of things to get it, and those things (most of the time)are irrevelant.

Anonymous said...

What I'm about to say may come across as a case of sour grapes but screw it. I'm studying in the UK and guess what? I'm studying with some of those who are supposedly so "smart" that the government is spending millions of Ringgit on. Unfortunately, none of them are impressive. The worst thing is, most of them can't even speak decent English. I'm not saying that you have to speak brilliant English to get a scholarship but sometimes I do feel that there could have been better people who are in their shoes. I think if this guy can get funding from HARVARD but not JPA, you got to know that I'm not exaggerating about the quality of the scholarship students I meet every day. Irony is, we question why the best brains are not coming home to Malaysia. Honestly, why should they?

andyksyong said...

This is not sth new. Many of my friends and relatives query the Chinese future in M'sia. I really do not know, perhaps people like Tony can voice strongly for us in the Parliament. Otherwise as it is many who can afford will send their children oversea for good or look for better prospect there.
- Andy.

Anonymous said...

"If education is about creating and satisfying the job market, JPA and BNM are right in not supporting my educational interests. I'll make a horrible Accountant. I can go on about the importance of "unimportant majors/concentrations" but not here. Malaysia, though, lack proper public policy researchers and think thanks: you don't need to look far for the consequences."

Well said. We are producing nothing but engineers and technicians and whatnot just because they are "marketable" in our developing country.

At the end of the day, we will lose out if we have a country full of nothing but engineers. Note that I am not saying that engineers are not important; they are, and I am one too. However, I feel that social scientists, artists, historians and others are just as important.

I studied liberal arts when I was in college (yes, I studied engineering and liberal arts concurrently and completed both, which I think would've been inconceivable if I had studied here. But, that's besides the point.)

The point is, we want people who can think for themselves and not people programmed to think in a certain way. I wouldn't be able to say anything convincingly if I didn't believe in what I was saying.

Restricting people from discussing certain subjects just because they are considered "taboo" subjects and therefore, not our "culture" to discuss them in the open, is just shallow.

When we restrict a person from saying something just because it deviates from the norm, we are restricting creativity. And without creativity, we can never progress as a nation.

Anonymous said...

disebabkan dia ini cina... dia tak boleh masuk uni... then bila masuk Harvard.. baru ternganga!! kerajaan yg sangat racist and sangat merugikan negara sendiri... kerana mempertahankan ketuanan UMNO (bertopengkan ketuanan melayu)... mereka rela melihat univesiti tempatan dapat ranking below 10!

to Jia Hui!!! congratulation to you! kami bangga for you.. sekarang JPA and bank negara ternganga terlepas permata negara!

Anonymous said...

typo error ...

mereka rela melihat univesiti tempatan dapat ranking below 10!


mereka rela melihat universiti tempatan dapat ranking corot!!!

Anonymous said...

the whole world must b laughing at malaysia right now 4 losing its top brains 2 other countries.

thank you Hishammuddin 4 dragging down our country's education standard with your bumiputra quota system policies.

4 more unfair justice & controversies plz vote 4 babi nasional, malaysia boleh!!!

xenobiologista said...

I got rejected for the A-level ASEAN scholarship in Singapore and got a full tuition scholarship to a private college in the US.

It's not just the JPA lah. Any scholarship award that you apply for in this part of the world, they don't want you if you sound a bit too crazy. Whereas in the USA, it seems like the crazier the better (which has its advantages and disadvantages - one disadvantage is that liberal arts colleges fill up with self-absorbed kids who think that they should get jobs and money just for being "creative").

And it's not just Hishamuddin. Anwar and Najib did plenty of damage to the system during their respective tenures too...

Anonymous said...

Congrats to Mr. JH! All the best in the States.
One thing I must say about scholarship interviews is that luck does play a big role in them. The interviewers are human and being human means that they will of course hold their own views and will be automatically bias. I had a friend who was involved in many school activities, displayed leadership qualities and maintained good grades. They went for a series of interviews but did not get the scholarship they were looking for. My friend later told me that the problem with perceptions in Malaysia, especially with institutions handing out scholarships, is that they tend to look for students with the 20 1A's but never the students that can speak out and that get involved in things rather than school. My friend told me that several of the kids at the interviews were very, for lack of a better word, "nerdy". The kids my friend met were kids who scored very good grades but clearly did not get involved in many things out of school. I wish many interviewers come to realize that grades are not the only thing that make a person. Look at Jia Hui, he truly is a role model. He is an activist, bright student, and a very humble person. I am honestly sick of meeting certain people who get scholarships who can be full of themselves. I wish all the best for JH. insyallah he will become a nation or even world figure in the future.

Anonymous said...

Then again people. you cannot continually criticize the government. My father works for the government. We have much to be grateful for, at least I think so. The govt. has paid for the education of so many students and even though jiahui was unfortunately not one of the students, think about the hundreds more who have the chance to study abroad thanks to government scholarships. We often hear stories of kids from the very very rural areas achieveing alot by studying hard and eventually studying abroad. Many third world countries don't even have this privilage. Nevertheless, I am so happy that Mr. JH was able to recieve a FULL SCHOLARSHIP from Yale. Everything worked out for him in the end.
Oh and I have to agree to one of the anonymous writers above me. I too have heard of scholarship recipients being students that really were not spectacular. They may be extremely intelligent academically, but they are unable to even formulate their ideas in english properly. I wish our country, especially Malaysian society, would begin to stress that academics is not the only key to success. I would love to see more Malaysians be like JH, outspoken, confident, and hardworking. We truly need to stress this idea in schools because after schooling in western schools, I've learned that there is more than just studying. That is why in the West even a B student can be able to run a business or become a spokesman.

Anonymous said...

Long Live Kajang!

Out of sheer curiosity of where the comments were heading, I can't help to feel irritated and then finally compelled to laugh at what sonar wrote.

It's really silly.
And he kept repeating the silly same things.

Jiahui, thumbs up! u have always been brilliant in everything. Academics, debating, public speaking, and also ur researches! when we were 17, u were the cream of the crop. we were miles away from ur brilliance!

Until you actually know JiaHui in person, only then you will actually and literally be in awe.

EC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mookies said...

lee jia hui was a friend of mine, yeah...he was among the smart kids i knew when i was schooled in High school kajang. i'm very proud of his achievement right now. all of our friends are soo happy.....gud luck jia hui.

Anonymous said...

Things happen for a reason. At least, we should be glad that he secured a scholarship to pursue his studies oversea. The thing is, why some put hatred on JPA selections? I saw some of my Chinese friends who got the scholarships too.

Sometimes, people are blinded by how many As they got, but they forgot one important thing, in order to be excellent in this world, u need to be all rounded too such as being a sportman, doing excellent charity works, good communication skill and soft skills etc.

Hopefully he would be happy with the Harvard scholarship. We all should be happy for him. Once again, everything happens for a reason.

Anonymous said...

Most of the above comments seem to suggest that only the JPA intervieweers are rasict and select (many) bumiputra candidates for scholarships. However, the same may be said about the (Malaysian) Harvard Alumni interviewees who might also be racist. Many of us only think that only the malays are capable of being rasist whilst their chinese counterparts have a pure and noble heart and act without bias and prejudice. If that statement was true, I wonder why we still see in local newspapers employers seeking those who are conversant in mandarin, why chinese sellers (whatever scale their business is) give good rates or favourable credit terms to the chinese counterparts but not the malays. Why we are making fuss about JPA/Bank Negara/Khazanah etc not selecting chinese candidates for scholarship bursaries, whilst the malays never question the distribution of scholarships by Robert Kuok Foundation, Ananda Krishnan foundation, YTL foundation etc.